Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks


So, I thought I'd go ahead and do another movie review since, again, I just blogged about seeing it.  As you might know, I went to see Saving Mr. Banks when the Walt Disney Company offered special views at the Walt Disney Studio lot itself in Burbank.  The film is not necessarily about the making of Mary Poppins which is celebrating its 50th year this year, but about how two headstrong storytellers (Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers) clashed in the fight for the rights to the story to make the film.  For over 20 years, Walt (Tom Hanks) tried to get Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) to sign over the rights.  When money started getting a little tight for her, her agent arranged to have her spend a couple of weeks in Burbank at the Walt Disney Studios.  In return, Walt had promised unprecedented script approval and final word.  Mrs. Travers spends most of her time with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak respectively) where she is very vocal about her opinions, particularly about her disdain of animation.  The creators try to figure out why she is so hard headed but, along the way, we learn more about Mrs. Travers' childhood and why Mary Poppins is such a personal story for her.

Anyway, I've heard some people grumble about how the film doesn't tell the whole story and that there are things that are dramatized.  For example, Walt spent very little time with Mrs. Travers when she was at the studio because he couldn't deal with her cantankerousness.  In fact, he wasn't there when she did visit Disneyland.  Nor did he fly immediately to England after her when she left after feeling deceived.  And, the character of Ralph (wonderfully played by Paul Giamatti), her chauffeur, is a fictional character added to give Mrs. Travers a little more heart.  But, one has to remember this is not a documentary.  It is a movie that has to sell tickets to the general public.  And, given that, I think the film does a remarkable job in capturing what actually did happen leading us to the creation of one of the greatest movie musicals and most cherished Disney films of all time.

Yes, it is unfortunate that P.L. Travers ultimately did not like the final product.  As in the film, there are several eye witnesses that spotted her crying during the film.  Why she was crying is not known.  But, at the same time, she did send a letter of congratulations to Walt Disney and her friend author Brian Sibley recently shared with Disney Twenty-Three Magazine that there were actually parts of the film that she did like.

It's hard.  For me, Mary Poppins, the final film, is not just a practically perfect film, but a PERFECT film.  It is not just one of my favorite Disney films, but one of my favorite films of all time.  I've read the book and appreciate it for what it is.  But, honestly, for me, and in all due respect to Mrs. Travers, this is a case where the product is superior to the original.  I know some people don't want to hear that, and you have every right to disagree with me, but I personally think the film is better than the books.

But, what the film DID was give me an insight into P.L. Travers and how personal a story Mary Poppins was to her.  And, as such, it gave me much greater appreciation for the book. Emma Thompson is amazing as, while she embodies the hardness of P.L. Travers, she does it without making her a cartoon.  We can laugh at her comments, but we ultimately feel for her.  And, when I think about the parts that particularly touch me in the film, they are the parts where we understand the motivations of Mr. Banks.  This is, thanks in part, to the steadfast insistence of Mrs. Travers.

And, for all of you who might think the film is a canonization of St. Disney, I was actually impressed that they did show some scenes that didn't present Walt in the best light, including the reference to his smoking to his not wanting to invite Mrs. Travers to the premiere of Mary Poppins.  But, don't worry...there's also plenty of Uncle Walt in there as well.  And, regardless of how the story actually played out, the conversations between Hanks' Walt and Thompson's Mrs. Travers are very touching.

Regardless of how you feel about the final product of Mary Poppins, I do feel the film gives a fair, if not entirely accurate, account of the events that occurred during the time.  Again, we have to remember dramatizations will occur when making a movie.  But, I have to give Disney credit for not entirely sugar coating everything and give us a story that, personally, I think will make people appreciate both Mary Poppins the film and the book.

Comments

  1. I'll try my best to write here what I think, but what I feel in my head and heart might not convey itself properly when typed, lol.

    I have often looked at the relationship of Travers and Disney with a biased view, towards Travers. I studied literature and enjoy writing myself, and have even made extensive notes for books I'd love to write someday. I consider myself an amateur writer at best, but a writer nonetheless.
    With that in mind, I can completely sympathise with Travers want to have her work presented in the only way that she sees it in her mind. It was her life's work, and as we discovered in the film, it had a lot of emotional and sentimental value attached to it for her. She wasn't willing to hand over her precious memories to a cartoon studio (as she saw it), without some serious consideration and bartering on both sides. I would be exactly the same way.

    My main concern for the film was that they were going to make her into a bitter old lady who was unwilling to cooperate. I was definitely proved wrong.
    What they did with Saving Mr. Banks is to give something back to Travers that she never got in her lifetime - appreciation for her point of view, and value of her work as a person with a heart, not just a writer who looks to make millions from movies. I believe she wrote the books for herself, to redeem herself for the death of her father, and her own self guilt.
    I don't think in real life Disney really got that, and that's what got her, she didn't want it to lose its heart and soul.
    We all know, as you point out, that Saving Mr. Banks isn't historically accurate, but what I believe it does do, and what I like to believe happened, is that someone somewhere at Disney now, wanted to give something back to Travers that she lost when the movie came out. By making this film, and showing her in a more compassionate light, and by giving her side of the story, we can all really understand her, to see who she really was.
    Somebody at Disney realises that she was not treated the way she wanted to be treated, somebody realised that she just wanted respect for her work, and somebody wanted to give her that back.
    i think saving Mr. Banks is the fitting tribute and well deserved recognition to Travers that she never enjoyed in her lifetime. Often portrayed as a difficult and lonely woman, they have apologised, redeemed and given life back to her in a way she never had before.

    Sorry for the rant, hopefully it al makes sense! :)

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  2. I meant to add that I LOVE the film (if you didn't get that already LOL!) and actually think it;s one of the best films I've seen in a long time.
    I actually probably enjoyed it more than I do Mary Poppins ;) lol.

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  3. LOL! Yes, I got that you loved the film based on what you had written.

    I remember that I was describing this film to somebody while I was with you one time and I remember you saying that you hoped they wouldn't make Mrs. Travers into some kind of demon because, as you mention in your comments, this was her work and she had every right to protect it. I, too, am glad that, at the root of the film, was a story that emotionally tied us to her story and why she came to write "Mary Poppins." So, I got to know her even more than I thought I would know her in the film.

    Although, I don't know if I would PERSONALLY go as far as to say I liked it more than Mary Poppins itself. LOL! That film is absolutely one of my favorite films of all time and one that I consider a perfect movie musical. There is not one song I'd trim from the final product and not one actor I'd recast. :)

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